For those of us who have criticized the growing anti-free speech movement in the Democratic Party, the Biden transition team has just taken a threatening turn. The New York Post reports that Biden has recruited Richard Stengel to lead the US agency for global media, including Voice of America, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. As I mentioned in a column, Stengel was one of the most controversial figures calling for censorship and language control. For an elected president who only demanded that everyone “hear” each other, he chose a top aide who wants to silence many. Since it would be difficult to vote an anti-free speech to address the government’s media policies, one has to assume that Biden will continue the attack on this core freedom as president. This is not the first Biden adviser to point out crackdown on freedom of expression in the new government, and Biden himself has called for greater censorship on the internet.
Last year, Stengel wrote a chilling Washington Post statement denouncing free speech as a threat to social and political harmony. Like a number of liberal and democratic figures, Stengel tried to convince readers that they needed less freedom: “All speeches are not created equal. And where the truth cannot dispel lies, we have to add new guard rails. I am all for the protection of ‘thoughts we hate’ but not for language that incites hatred. “
It is the European perspective that has destroyed freedom of expression on this continent. We previously discussed the alarming rollback of freedom of speech in the West (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). It’s a trend that now seems to be gaining support in the media celebrating French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech to Congress calling on the United States to follow Europe’s model of hate speech.
In January, Biden called for increased voice control on the Internet and condemned Twitter for allowing others to speak freely. I insisted that tolerating such views in the name of free speech is the same as “spreading lies that they know are wrong”. Biden urged companies to ban Trump’s views on things like mail-in-voting as a solicitation of fraud. He is not alone. Congress leaders such as House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff have called for material to be flagged and removed, with some members threatening direct legislative crackdown. This week, spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi condemned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for opposing speech surveillance and censorship based on free speech. Pelosi pointed out that those who want to maintain a free speech zone are “just making money” and ignore free speech advocates who have no financial interest in these companies. Pelosi said opting out of such surveillance means that social media companies are simply “trying to make money at the expense of the truth and the facts” and trying to “hide under freedom of expression”.
These efforts draw on the work of scholars pushing for greater censorship and language control. The Atlantic published an article by Jack Goldsmith, professor at Harvard Law School, and Andrew Keane Woods, professor of law at the University of Arizona calling for Chinese Internet censorship. They stated that “in the great debate of the last two decades over freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States largely wrong” and “significant surveillance and voice control are inevitable parts of a mature and thriving Internet that governments must agree to These practices play a major role in ensuring that the Internet is compatible with the norms and values of society. “
However, Stengel is one of the most annoying and outspoken voices against free speech. He wrote of how difficult it was to explain our views on freedom of speech to Arab countries, which of course routinely detain or even execute people for freedom of speech. However, Stengel made the point that they had legitimate confusion about our values:
“Even the most discerning Arab diplomats I’ve dealt with haven’t understood why the first amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that it was a fair question? Yes, the first amendment protects the “thought we hate”, but it should not protect any hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. At a time when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw. “
That design flaw is freedom of speech. In a nation full of talented people who should lead the government’s media policy and positions efforts, Biden selected a person who opposes the very essence of free speech. Stengel promises the “unity” of a nation that has been silenced by government language codes and censorship. When no one has a megaphone, free speech is no longer a problem.